SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 11 UC Santa Barbara gave an improved effort in its second matchup against No. 2 UCLA in the last three days, but that proved to be not enough as the Bruins and their high-octane offense pulled out a 25-22, 25-22, 25-17 sweep at the Thunderdome on Friday night.
In front of a season-high crowd of over 600, the Gauchos (6-3, 3-3 MPSF) put on a solid offensive display in sets one and two, hitting over .350 as a team in each frame. Unfortunately, UCLA (8-1, 6-0) was just a bit better at each turn, hitting over .400 in each of the first two games before putting the match on ice in the third by holding the Gauchos to .077 hitting.
Middle blocker Mitch Stahl (five aces) led a strong serve effort for UCLA that gave the Gauchos problems, especially in the third set. UCSB was only able to side out on 47% of its serve receive opportunities, while the Bruins hovered around a solid 70% for the evening.
Still, there were signs of improvement after Wednesday's sweep at Pauley Pavillion, with the team hitting almost 100 points higher for the match and competing in two of the three sets.
"UCLA is a very good team and they served really well tonight," said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. "I thought we played a lot better tonight than we did on Wednesday, and I'm happy that we were able to improve in a lot of areas. If we keep focusing on getting better, we'll end up in the playoffs which is where we want to be."
Redshirt senior Jacob Delson had 11 kills for UCSB, making him the team's kills-leader in all nine matches this season. Sophomore opposite Corey Chavers thrived early, ending the night with eight kills on 19 swings. In their first starts since opening day, freshman setter Randy DeWeese (26 assists, four kills) and sophomore middle blocker Connor Drake (five kills on six swings) were impressive.
UCLA's offense was led by middle blocker Daenan Gyimah, who had a match-high 12 kills on just 17 swings. The Bruins' outsides weren't far behind however, with Jake Arnitz grabbing 11 kills and JT Hatch finishing with 10. Setters Micah Ma'a and Hagen Smith led the team to a .420 hitting percentage for the night.
The Gauchos had their best chance at winning a set in the first. Behind a strong service run from Delson, the Gauchos turned a 12-all tie into a 16-12 lead. However, UCLA answered back with a run of their own and tied the match at 19-19 with a strong slam-down spike from the left side by Hatch. Stahl put the Bruins ahead on the very next point with his first ace of the night, then added another after a UCSB timeout to create some cushion. The Gauchos couldn't close the gap from that point, with the stanza coming to a close when Delson served into the net on set point.
Though the Bruins led by as much as four midway through the second set, UCSB clawed back and made it close down the stretch thanks to strong play from Drake (three kills on three swings) and DeWeese (14 assists, all six UCSB starters had multiple kills). Unfortunately for the Gauchos, two straight points for UCLA off a 19-19 tie turned out to be the difference, as the Bruins were able to side out each time UCSB got the serve to close out the set.
UCLA dominated in game three, winning the first four points en route to a 7-1 advantage. The Gauchos were able to bring it within three later in the set, but a 5-0 service run from Stahl made it 17-10. He then ended the match his next time up to serve, ripping a jump serve off the tape and down on the UCSB side of the court.
Coming off a stretch that saw them play seven of eight at home in January, the Gauchos play their next four matches on the road starting with a pair of contests next week at Hawaii. Both matches, the first on Friday night with the second to follow the next evening, are slated for 9:00 p.m. PT starts.